Every October, the English seaside town of Whitby transforms into a page taken right out of a Bram Stoker novel.
All types of subcultures—from goths clad in 19th-century corsets and bustles to steampunks sporting vintage flying goggles—descend on this quiet port for Whitby Goth Weekend, the United Kingdom’s largest goth event.
Around ten thousand festivalgoers head to Whitby to listen to alternative music, show off their finest attire, and celebrate nonconformity. Elaborately costumed attendees pack the town’s narrow streets and alleyways—a show-stopping spectacle intriguing enough to tempt other tourists to Whitby just to see the tableau of hair, makeup, and finery. Local businesses also get into the Halloween spirit, reshaping their shops into bat and cobweb-filled haunts.
The festival began in 1994 when a group of like-minded pen pals decided to meet in Whitby because of the town’s links to Dracula. Bram Stoker drew inspiration for his 1897 Gothic horror novel from the coastal town, impressed by its atmospheric streets and ruined Benedictine abbey. Perched on the town’s West Cliff, the abbey, church, and graveyard emanated the spooky charm that Stoker envisioned for his vampire tale.
A host of fringe events take place in venues throughout the weekend, but the main attraction is the nightly concerts at Whitby Spa Pavilion, which are headlined by some of the biggest names in the alternative music scene. Festival first-timers—known as “Whitby Virgins”—can attend organised meet-and-greets, and visitors can also rummage through the stalls at the Bizarre Bazaar Alternative Market for Victorian memorabilia to add to their costumes. A charity soccer match traditionally brings the festival to a close.
Quickly growing in popularity, the festival became a biannual event in 1997. The weekends, which take place at the end of April and October, generate more than one million dollars in Whitby annually.
In 2016, St. Mary’s Churchyard, a popular photo stop during the weekend, started a petition to close the cemetery during the festival. Whitby Goth Weekend organisers supported the initiative. “Despite pleas from the event organisers, and from St Mary's Church themselves, people are still disrespecting the graves of the ancestors of the Whitby residents, by using their graves as props for a cheap photo opportunity,” according to the petition. “Whitby is a beautiful town and there are plenty of places suitable for a photo opportunity which does not disrespect the wishes of residents and family members.”
Lead Image: A ghostly bride graces the streets of Whitby. PHOTOGRAPH BY IAN FORSYTH, GETTY IMAGES.